Patents extended under revived TPP?

The ACTU has attacked the government over the revived TPP, claiming it would drive up drug prices

ACTU president Ged Kearney says that the Trans Pacific Partnership, which is set to be discussed from Saturday in Vietnam, would see patents extended.

Ms Kearney says this would mean “the Big Pharma monopoly on drug production would jump from five to eight years, costing the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) hundreds of millions of dollars”.

She cites a La Trobe University study which showed that biologics currently cost the PBS $2.2 billion each year, “and could be cut by $560 million if current protections were scrapped”.

This study examined the potential savings to the PBS and RPBS and found that the expenditure on biologics on both schemes totalled $2.29 billion on 2015-6.

“If biosimilar versions of these medicines had been listed on the PBS in 2015–16, at least A$367 million dollars would have been saved in PBS and RPBS subsidies,” this study found.

“Modelling based on price decreases following listing of biosimilars on the PBS suggests that annual PBS outlays on biologics could be reduced by as much as 24% through the timely introduction of biosimilars.

“Biologic medicines represent a large proportion of government expenditure on pharmaceuticals. Reducing the length of monopoly protections on these medicines could generate savings of hundreds of millions of dollars per year.”

Ms Kearney singles out Pfizer as making US 22 billion profit “in a single year”.

“French company Veolia is suing the Egyptian government for increasing the minimum wage, and a US pharmaceutical company is suing the Canadian government over a court decision which refused a patent on a drug which was no more effective than existing medicines,” she said.

However the Public Health Association of Australia says the revived TPP talks are an opportunity to remove “unhealthy” rules, now that the US is no longer involved.

“The withdrawal of the United States provides an opportunity to remove or renegotiate controversial rules that were only included in the agreement because the US insisted on them,” said Michael Moore, CEO of PHAA.

“This includes intellectual property rules that would compromise access to affordable medicines, and the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process which allows foreign corporations to sue governments over policies and laws that harm their investments.

“The TPP’s alcohol labelling rules could also create difficulties for countries wanting to mandate health information on alcohol containers, and should be re-negotiated,” he said.

Mr Moore says suggestions that the current plan for resurrecting the TPP “involves suspending implementation [of] some of its less palatable rules, paving the way for the US to re-join at a later stage.

“But this approach would only delay the effects of these harmful rules,” he says.

Dr Deborah Gleeson, PHAA spokesperson and author of the La Trobe study, says the biosimilars issue is a good example.

“The TPP’s rules for biologics are intended to delay the availability of cheaper versions of these drugs,” she says.

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